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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Aqualung: "Strange and Beautiful"

In 2006, I remember sitting in the bedroom, and out of complete boredom, flipping the television to MTV (a mistake that I very rarely repeat). Out of the five minutes of watching, I happened to see a commercial for a new album and a relatively new artist. The album, Strange and Beautiful. The artist, Aqualung. The 20 second long commercial clip had a musical hook that made me want to hear more from Aqualung, and eventually, I gave in. I found that.Aqualung’s Strange and Beautiful is a hypnotic album that half resembles a lounge act with his vocals and piano, and half resembles a solo experimentation with a bunch of pre-recorded instruments and drum loops. Despite the heavy use of pre-recorded files in his music, the album definitely gets my respect as a good album. It’s peaceful where it needs to be, cheerful where it needs to be, and overall, is a positive album that I feel like many would enjoy.

The first track on this album, “Strange and Beautiful (I’ll put a spell on you)” opens up with a steady drum loop and then brings in some piano melodies as he begins to softly sing. What I love about this song is the magical feel is possesses. Not only with some of the music/sounds but the lyrics in this song take on the same tone. In the verses of the song, he gently describes this girl…how he’s watching her, how she’s way out of his league, and how she doesn’t even notice him, so what does he do? He decides he’s going to figuratively take matters into his own hands. “I’ll put a spell on you. You’ll fall asleep and I’ll put a spell on you, and when I wake you I’ll be the first thing you see, and you’ll realize that you love me”, he lightly voices. Indeed, the lyrics sound a bit hokie, but the song in its entirety says otherwise. It is not your typical, “please, please fall for me” type of song. It has appropriate maturity to it.

“Falling Out of Love”, the album’s second track has a definite lounge feel to it from the moment you hear the introductory notes. Then, as Aqualung begins to describe his actions/emotions/thoughts, he ever-so-gently continues down the path of mellowness. This song is lyrically short, though due to its speed, feels way longer than you’d initially anticipate. While this song is enjoyable to me, I don’t believe there is not much meat to it (notice I don’t use the word “depth” out of respect to the artist’s work). The lyrics are not too memorable or variant for that matter, but it’s a decent song nonetheless.

So, mini-me called, and he wants his little metallic sounding piano back. Yeah, it’s a bit different sounding than the first two tracks, but “Good Times Gonna Come” fails to deliver. He opens up with what truly sounds like a miniature, metal, piano and his normal “life moves slowly” voice. While things get a bit more interesting musically, it’s not enough of a change to make the listener become hopeful. There are so many things that I don’t like about this song, it’s hard to label them all, so alas, I will list a few: mini-me’s piano, uninteresting drum loops, perplexing lyrics and some bad mixes. The first two are self explanatory. Here’s a sample of some verse lyrics, “You came from no-where with nothing and no one, hold tight, hold tight, hold tight. Goes to show you never really know, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.” What the heck does that even mean? I guess he intended to be the sole interpreter. As for the mix, during the chorus, it’s hard to even determine the words he using, much less their meaning, because the mix is extremely heavy on the distortion. It’s simply not his best track.

On that note, by the time “Brighter than Sunshine” comes around, you are almost internally begging for a change…and you’re not being persnickety. Suddenly, the heavens open up; you hear a chorus of angels, and the first Aqualung song that you’re, without a doubt, proud to claim as something you’ve listened to. This song has a catchy, piano chord structure, good use of strings, improved lyrics, and finally, an element of surprise! While this song starts out rather slow and mellow, there’s a distinct pause in music that is proceeded with a steady drum beat and a track that’s beginning to pick up in intensity as guitars are added to the mix. The lyrics in this track are delightfully cheerful and good spirited. This song actually gives hope to the thoughts of love. The lyrics confidently proclaim, “What a feeling in my soul! Love burns brighter than sunshine. Let the rain fall, I don’t care. I’m yours and suddenly you’re mine, and it’s brighter than sunshine!” My opinion is that it’s overall his best track and I definitely see why that was the track they chose to expose on the MTV plug.

“Breaking My Heart” is also leaps and bounds better than the third track. There are some different things going on in this track that give it a nice edge and I believe, would also appeal to Coldplay fans. Aqualung chooses to introduce many new sounds in this track which ultimately work to its advantage. By this point on the album, the listener has realized that he is very biblical in his writing in that he repeats things multiple times, perhaps to stress its importance. Example, “You’re breaking my heart, breaking my heart, breaking my heart again. Don’t ask me to stop, ask me to stop, ask me to stop again.” Although lyrically repetitive, this track certainly pulls you in and leaves wondering what lies in store next.

At first glance, the album’s sixth track, “Tongue-Tied” doesn’t appear to be too special, but when you pause to examine it, you see the many good elements working with him. It begins with subtle but desirable music as his voice enters in parallel octaves, giving the track more heft; a technique he uses throughout the song. Also in this track, Aqualung takes more risks where melodies, harmonies and chord progressions are concerned. This track provides a multitude of unexpected surprises, including the preceding mentioned. The lyrics are nothing to write anywhere about, but the rest leaves little to be desired. Right up until the end of the song, you’re like, “Really? Why that? Why there? I’m surprised I like it, but I do.”

You’ll have to take my word about the last 5 songs on this album. They’re all extremely mellow, but good things do happen and there are more surprises including a harpsichord in the last track and a Coldplay/Bono-esque song used in a Chrysler commercial. Aqualung will provide you with a majority album of noteworthy, yet nearly sedating tracks. His soft, smooth voice and fascinating musical choices make the album worth listening to, but don’t listen to this album expecting a lyrical casserole, because it won’t happen. It’s a good album to listen to if you’ve got nowhere to be in a hurry.

Key Tracks
1. "Strange and Beautiful"
2. "Falling Out of Love"
3. "Brighter Than Sunshine"
4. "Breaking My Heart"
5. "Tongue-Tied

7 out of 10 Stars


New to Tunes said...

This review leaves me confused. It tells me that the album is good; however, the majority of comments are negative. The author attempts to review each song in depth, yet abruptly stops writing as if she has reached a space or word limit. It does not make me want to download, purchase or even listen to Aqualung. How do I "take someone's word" on something as subjective as music when their written opinion itself is confusing and ambiguous?

likes cheese said...

I don't think most of the comments are negative. In fact the only track she does not like is number 3, the rest she has positive comments about. It is true she stops abruptly which is disappointing but, I think it is clear that she likes this album but that it has a few things she does not like. Which is probably why she gave it a 7 instead of a higher rating.

Cale said...

For the record, Erin has an in-depth knowledge of music, both old and new. She knows, better than I do, the different components that goes into music writing and performance.

And yes, you are entirely correct about an abrupt ending, but I'd have to disagree with your opinions on everything else.

Erin's style of writing is very personable, far different from the stale music reviews that you could read on other sites, or even on this one by myself. By just reading about a specific song, you can get a very clear idea of how it sounds, how she feels about it, and how it makes her feel. That's a very nice attribute to have. It may seem like rambling, but to me, it makes for a much more interesting, more enjoyable read.

And that's me. If you don't like someone's writing style, than you are more than welcome to stop reading their posts.

However, I think you'd be making an incredibly unwise decision to disregard an album or an artist simply because a single reviewer wrote it in a manner that wasn't to your liking. What's important is her opinions on the music, not the words or format in which she chose to express her opinions.

Anonymous said...

What's the name of the "Coldplay/Bono-esque song" used in the Chrysler commercial?


Cale said...

I believe that is "Left Behind"